Learning illustration as a self-taught artist, can be a long road with a lot of detours. But taking the right classes can save a lot of time.In the beginning of my path I wasn’t sure what I should learn first, but as I went along I established five important areas where I had to improve:
Drawing, value, watercolor, color and composition.
In this page I want to share the classes that I’ve taken to improve exponentially and get the confidence necessary to start offering commissions and refining my style. The secret is to take a class and combine with other skills you have.
If you only take the class and start painting like the teacher, it won’t help your progress. It’s only by combining and mixing techniques and skills that you arrive to you your own style and voice.
My best tips:
- With Watercolor, always mix your colors, never use straight from the tube.
- Always combine techniques: flowy with control, control with scribbles, vary line weight, take tiny risks!
- Warm up your hand before starting. Doodle, make little abstract paintings, make value studies, etc.
Domestika is a network of classes mostly in Spanish. They have recently introduced English speaking instructors and most of their classes are subtitled in English, Portuguese and German.
Now you can take classes from some of the most most recognized creatives that you might not know about because of the language barrier.
Their site is a treasure trove and they usually have amazing sales. A good tip: they have a lot of course packs that change often so check them out before buying individual classes. You can get three course for a super low price.
Without further ado, here are a few reviews of my favourite Domestika classes:
My class of the month!
This is the latest class I took on Domestika. I am in awe. The project is ambitious but she explains each step so well, plus without too much fuzz she teaches you how to build characters and create unusual compositions. One thing that attracted me to this class is the teacher’s portfolio: she does not have ONE STYLE!! hurray!
I can clearly see how this is an advantage and not a hindrance. I’m excited to illustrate an Oscar Wilde story. It’s been a secret desire of mine to show a tribute to my favorite writer of all times.
My forever favourites:
Ok, so we’ve made the traditional folded zine or we may have created a booklet type of zine, but if you want to go beyond that and create a zine more in the vein of an “artist book”, this class is excellent.
Beyond the technical details, the creative process, examples, and inspiration Violeta will send you running to make your own. Subtitles in English
Botanical Illustration with Watercolours with Paulina Maciel
In this course, you will learn, step by step, how to draw and paint botanical illustrations. Very few classes teach you how to observe and paint in a fine art manner and Paulina does a great job at explaining.
If you like the more classic approach to watercolor, this is the class for you. You’ll learn how to layer, shade and create a final stationery project.
If you are a portrait artist but you still struggle to give dimension to the shadows, the form and to capture expressiveness, this class is really good. It teaches you how to use warm and cool colors so well (at last!).
I also learned some new things about brushes. I usually looked for a good tip I didn’t consider if they held the right amount of water. It’s great to have a mix of instructors so you can combine techniques and ultimately come up with your own. Check it out here (English Subtitles)
Heads up: this is not a beginner’s course but in this brief course you will learn more than by watching endless tutorials and trying to find that magical “trick” that makes your illustrations pop. It’s a class in creativity, art history and technique.
Bluprint (used to be Craftsy)
Sadly, Bluprint went out of business in May 2020. :(
From Sketchbook to Painting: Developing Your Ideas in Watercolor
I recently took this class from Creativebug and I absolutely loved it. When we can’t seem to come up with a good idea and we wind up painting the same old thing, a solid process is a must. I loved Lindsay Stripling’s straightforward approach and her simplified method for choosing colors. Creativebug has way too many craft classes but you can find treasures like these.
Concept Sketchbook: a daily practice
IThere are a ton of classes about keeping a sketchbook but this one was different. Lindsay is an excellent teacher!
She guides us through the use of pencil, ink, crayon and colour pencils to make four spreads in our sketchbook. Her tips on finding a topic, doing some brainstorming and research to then sketch and complete a spread are fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the colour pencil section! Take the class here
Painting in the Garden
One of the earliest classes I took was Yao Cheng’s class Painting in the Garden. I was desperate to take my watercolours outside and visit Montreals botanical gardens. She teaches how to paint loosely and colorfully. I love how it all comes to life with a few brushstrokes. Good for beginners and intermediate artists. Find it here.
There are some wonderful hidden treasures on Skillshare. Usually they push the “popular classes” to the front, but some of the more wonky-filmed classes are more valuable in content than the polished ones.
If you’re looking for Creative Thinking classes take a look at my list here.
Some harder to find classes are here.
On a personal note:
I don’t particularly like follow-along projects. I have no interest in learning how to paint a sunflower in watercolor I want a combination of thought-process, tutorials, tips, feedback, and resources.
Domestika is a top-notch resource. I’ve taken many of their classes. They seek professional working creators that share their know-how generously, they answer questions in the forums even two years after their class has ended. They are now adding English speaking creators.
Skillshare is for me a way to save time, if I’m looking for a particular how-to, I will most likely look up a class there.
These are affiliate resources I appreciate your support in maintaining my arty habit by clicking on the links. There is no additional cost to you.
I’ve taken and completed all these classes. Check out my Instagram to see the progress thanks to all these incredible instructors.